Here is a transcript generated by of the The Content Mix podcast interview with Lawrence Robert on empathy in thought leadership and marketing:

Carlota Pico 0:13
Hi, everyone, I’m Carlota Pico from The Content Mix. And I’m excited to be here today with Lawrence Roberts, who is EMEA Marketing and Communications Manager for IT services, IT training and next generation solutions at Tech Data and has over 20 years of experience in marketing and communications. Welcome, Lawrence. And thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix.

Lawrence Roberts 0:35
Thank you very much. I’m pleased to be here. So thank you.

Carlota Pico 0:38
So I’m under the understanding that Tech Data is a pretty large company and to get this interview started off, I’d like to learn a little bit about your role at Tech Data, and also about Tech Data itself. What does it do? What type of services does it offer clients? Who are your clients? And those type of very broad subjects that I’d like to just focus on right now so that later on we can talk about marketing and your role within Tech Data.

Lawrence Roberts 1:02
Yeah, that’s a really great question. So let me put Tech Data into context for anyone who’s watching this and is perhaps not familiar Tech Data. Tech Data as a company has revenues of about 37 billion. Now, I mean, we are one of the largest companies most people might not have heard of, but that’s intentional. That’s deliberate. What we do is we are an IT distributor. So we supply the IT channel with technology solutions and services from many of the world’s largest IT providers. So now we’re talking about IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, HP, you name it. Those technology providers are part of our portfolio. And our role is to help those IT providers around the world build solutions to solve today’s business challenges. If you look at who we’re serving, we’re probably serving something like 125,000 different channel partners around the world. We operate in 40 countries, but we serve about 100 countries. And we sell something like 150,000 products every year. So it’s a big operation. It’s an exciting operation. And it’s full of innovation and change.

Carlota Pico 2:27
That’s extremely exciting. So what does it mean to be marketing communications manager for IT services, IT training and next generation solutions at such a large company that operates in so many markets worldwide?

Lawrence Roberts 2:41
Sure. It means a lot of work and a lot of fun. We have to stay ahead of technology, and technology, as we know, is an industry that changes very rapidly and very, very fast. My role is to work with some of the latest next generation technologies. We are trying to help our partners, our customers move in to be able to sell those technologies and build solutions around those technologies for their customers. So I have a European role at Tech Aata, which means I’m serving the European countries. So we have quite a complex matrix structure. But that does mean that we take a global view. And we apply that on a local country by country basis. And it’s brilliant because I get to see so many different fantastic technologies and we have some wonderful people.

Carlota Pico 3:31
So does that also mean that you’re working with local startups, especially growth startups, and that you’re matching those growth startups with potentially corporate technology service providers or different technology hubs in order to provide your clients with the best solutions right now?

Lawrence Roberts 3:49
So, the answer to that is in both sides. So what we do is we work with startups and established companies from our customer perspective, but we also do the same on that vendor side. So some technology vendors are well established like IBM and HP and Cisco and Microsoft. But we also work with some very interesting startup organizations on the technology vendor side, because what we’re doing is we’re focusing on building solutions around cloud around the Internet of Things – IoT, cybersecurity, and there’s amazing technologies that can help solve some business challenges that we’re seeing today.

Carlota Pico 4:28
Okay, those topics seem like very difficult and complicated topics to talk when it comes to marketing and communications, because it’s such a technical industry and it requires so much technical information that your everyday audience may not necessarily understand right off the bat. So I do want to talk about thought leadership since you’ve identified that is your area of strength and I want to ask you how you are incorporating thought leadership into your marketing strategy? But before we get to that, let me just define what thought leadership is for our audience. So according to HubSpot, thought leadership is a tactic content marketers use to build credibility for themselves or leaders in their company. The main goal of thought leadership is to become recognized as an expert, and use as a go-to resource in your field. So according to that definition, how are you incorporating thought leadership into your marketing strategy, Lawrence?

Lawrence Roberts 5:28
Yeah, that’s a great question. We’ve been doing thought leadership for a number of years. What we’ve tried to do is – look – Tech Data’s role is to connect the world with the power of technology. That’s what we’re here to do. And what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to show our customers how they can use some later technologies to solve business challenges. How do they innovate, and this is where thought leadership is brilliant. We are very fortunate at Tech Data because there’s very few companies in the technology industry that have the visibility of the industry as a good distributor, because we’re working with so many different technology vendors, we see the view from their view of the world. We work with so many partners, we see their view of the world. And we are obviously part of an important ecosystem as well. And that allows us to pull together all those thoughts, all those ideas, all the technology, and start building together some very interesting ways of solving some tech challenges. IoT is a perfect example. We started off with IoT, looking at how you can use the Internet of Things technology to solve particular vertical market business challenges. So you work with some some industry experts, and we sit down and we put their thoughts together. We have a fantastic PR agency and a big shout out here to Allison Partners that we use and they work tirelessly with us to pull together these ideas and together we all work and pull together a thought leadership article that helps explain what is very complex but in a way that’s easy to understand. I think the technology industry is very quick to make things too technical. And one of the things that we try and do with thought leadership is actually make it so that somebody can pick up and read it. And they don’t have to live in your world to understand it. And that’s really important because thought leadership is about conveying meaning. If you can’t convey meaning, then what’s the point? One of the skills I think of being a marketer in this industry is being able to take the complex and make it simple. Work with technical people who are very close to technical detail, and pull out the key meanings and be able to articulate that in such a way that you know, your mom, your dad, your uncle, your brother, your sister could read that article, and that’s my litmus test. If I give that to somebody else, and they can’t understand it, I need to go back and rework it.

Carlota Pico 7:53
Yes, definitely. Definitely. That’s music to my ears. I mean, that’s what I was trained in. Back in the day when I was an entrepreneur, it was really bad if my father who is 83 years old, does not understand what I am saying. There is no reason that I should say that to anybody else because it’s going to go over their head. And what I’m trying to communicate is never going to actually reach my audience and therefore my potential clients as well. I do want to put some of this talk into the walk which means that I’d love to talk about some of the most creative, thought leadership marketing campaigns that you’ve led or admired and why.

Lawrence Roberts 8:28
Sure, so one of the things that we’ve done with our thought leadership is we’ve used it to drive our social presence. It’s been really important because, you know, in some of these ways, we’re creating new markets here, and new opportunities. And we’ve worked with different experts in our business, to put together whole streams of different thought leadership articles. And we have been taking them and publishing them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and they have driven our social presence for a number of years now, because we find that they get great coverage. And they help elevate our brand in those industries and in those technologies. Its where they need to be, we need people to be looking at us as their trusted advisor. So by publishing these articles on a regular basis, people get used to seeing Tech Data, and helps open the doors.

Carlota Pico 9:25
Lawrence, you make all this sound so easy. I’m sure it’s much more complicated than what it actually sounds. And I know that marketers every single day are struggling to create valuable content, and also engaging content for their different audiences. So I do want to ask you for tips, advice or insights for marketers who are struggling to create valuable content, what would you say to them?

Lawrence Roberts 9:49
So content is key, right? Absolutely everything revolves around having great quality content. Now, the way to do that, there isn’t necessarily a shortcut way. What you have to do is read. I mean, lifelong learning. I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning, and you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. I love technology, which is why I work here at Tech Data. I’m passionate about learning about technologies. So I take the time in my diary, to read the articles in the tech publications. I take the opportunities to jump on training calls with the teams, and learn and listen. We have some wonderful people within Tech Data, some really, really clever people. And I pick their brains. I ask them questions, sometimes too many questions, but I pick their brains, ask them, what is it? And I try and get to the crux of it and the meaning and its by understanding the meaning that I can then convey it into a simple message and into thought leadership.

Carlota Pico 10:48
Okay, so basically, what you’re doing is you’re centering your content around your audience, rather than around your company. You’re listening to your clients, you’re listening to your potential clients, and you’re really trying to solve their problems by then just advertising solutions.

Lawrence Roberts 11:02
Oh, absolutely. So I think advertising your solutions is not the way to lead thought leadership. What we’re looking at doing is we try to identify the business challenge. What is the business challenge that our customers are having, to try and build a technology solution to solve for their own customers. And we’re very fortunate, as I mentioned earlier, that we work with a lot of fantastic technology vendors, and our great customers. And we pull information together. And it’s that that drives our thought leadership.

Carlota Pico 11:32
Sounds like you’re also really humanizing your content, right? Although you’re a business company, you are very aware that you are talking to humans at the end of the day, because behind every business, there is a group of humans running that business and buying your products. So it does sound like you are talking to your consumers as people rather than as companies.

Lawrence Roberts 11:52
Most definitely. I mean, our customers have different personas as well. So some of our customers are very technical. And so you want to talk to that persona. Now other parts of our customer base are salespeople. So they are selling the technology, we have customers that are running those businesses, so the director type persona, and of course, you have the marketing persona. So what we try and do is look at the persona we’re talking to, and making sure that we’re talking directly to those people. Because if you don’t talk to them, then you become irrelevant. And it’s about ultimately changing behavior. So we need to convince them to a different behavior, and this is how they can do it.

Carlota Pico 12:31
Okay, excellent. Moving into your experience in social media and brand management, I want to talk a little bit about the recent Black Lives Matter movement and brands from around the world’s response to it. So what do you think? Should brands react to social issues on their social channels? And if so, what type of brands, in what manner and why?

Lawrence Roberts 12:52
Yeah, that’s a really good question. You know, I think it comes down to looking at what matters to your customers, to employees and to your vendors. With the Black Lives Matter movement, I saw an article from Meltwater recently where they showed you the traffic around Black Lives Matters versus COVID lockdown, versus the Superbowl versus all the other things have happened this year. And it dwarfs all the other stuff on Twitter. Tech Data is reliant on people from all around the world from all backgrounds to run our business. We have as a business core values around inclusion and integrity. If it matters to our employees, if it matters to our customers, it matters to us. And what I would say is I’ve been really impressed with our global team at Tech Data. We’ve had our CEO, Rich Hume, come out publicly and state that it matters and did a fantastic message in earlier this week. There’s a wonderful video, it was for internal employees, about why this matters. Tech Data takes things very seriously. And I think if you don’t react to those things, silence also speaks volumes too. So you need to be authentic. And you need to show that if your customers, if your employees are hurting, you’d normally put an arm around them and say that we care. And what’s the difference for social? Now there are some areas where perhaps we don’t need to go into so we don’t tend to talk about political issues because, you know, that’s down to subjective, personal views. But something like Black Lives Matters, it impacts all of us. And Tech Data’s been really good at showing you it cares about that.

Carlota Pico 14:45
Lawrence, I love how you’re bringing it back to your people as well to your employees that you’re not only focusing on your clients, your potential clients, but that you’re also talking about this openly because your employees care about it as well and you’re creating a company and a company culture that your employees can feel proud of and that can also resonate with them.

Lawrence Roberts 15:03
Yeah, I’ve been very proud of the way Tech Data’s got through this last year. With the COVID lockdown their responsibility towards their employees has been phenomenal. They’ve been incredibly flexible and and the attitude of the senior leaders has been amazing and same with Black Lives Matter. It’s been absolutely so impressive.

Carlota Pico 15:23
Well, I’m sure your senior leadership will definitely appreciate that shout out. Okay, on a similar note, I do also want to talk about COVID-19. It has impacted industries across all fields and worldwide as well. And some brands have decided to address the issue head on while other brands have decided to go radio silent. So from your vast experience, how can a brand connect and retain their audience’s attention through these very unstable times?

Lawrence Roberts 15:53
I dont know about vast experience, I don’t think many of us have been through this period before but what I will say it’s about being authentic again. If your customers are hurting, and your employees are hurting, you have to deal with these issues head on, you have to tackle them. And they’re difficult now. What we’ve been very careful at Tech Data is modifying messaging. You need to be as a company, very careful not to be seen to be profiteering from this because I mean, let’s face it, technology has actually been one of those areas where there’s been a huge need for it. In this period, we’ve done a lot of work to effectively help show organizations how to help employees work remotely from home. How to help them improve collaboration, when they’re working from home, how to improve security when they’re working from home, because that’s a major issue right now within organizations. Not only that, how do you then help organizations return to work? How do you make workspaces safe with IoT technologies? So roofspace occupacy and things like that and how you make retail environments safe. How do you then help organizations have a hybrid approach where you’ve got some working from the office, and some working from home. So we’ve done a lot of work around marketing to change our message, and change solutions. So in some ways, we almost put on hold what we were doing, and switched to what our customers really need today, and which is helping them work from home, remotely, securely and helping them return to work remotely and securely. But doing it in a way thats sensitive. At the end of the day we recognize there are some businesses that aren’t gonna come out of the back of this. We’ve lost, sadly, loved ones that are close to us. People are suffering. We recognize that our role is to now is to help give our customers the solutions that they need to tackle the threats they’re facing.

Carlota Pico 18:00
So on that note, let’s give a shout out to all those companies who, throughout these very difficult times have proven and shown that they care about their customers and that they care about people in general, regardless of the sale at the end of the day, right, and also shout out to the caretakers who have had our back throughout the entire health crisis, and are continuously giving back to society in a very generous manner. I do want to also comment on your response. So basically, what you’re doing is you’re empathizing with your customers, right? You’re putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about what worries them at this very moment rather than just what you can sell to them.

Lawrence Roberts 18:42
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, you know, if your mother or your father or your brother or sister was hurting, you talk to them about what they need. You don’t go and say, I can tell you this. Its about relating to them and being a human, you know, being a decent individual and saying okay, this is the trend you’re finding. We’ve got these solutions here that I think might help you get through this next challenge.

Carlota Pico 19:08
I love how you keep on bringing it back to family. I’m a big family person. And I love when companies always look at their clients as their mother, their father, their brother, their sister, their friend, because I think it really helps a brand to humanize their marketing material and to really show that they’re in it because they love what they do. And they believe in the value that their product will offer to their customer.

Lawrence Roberts 19:41
I think in the technology industry, which is a very niche industry in some ways. And you know, you are part of an ecosystem, you’re part of a family and you will often bump into the same people although different laws and different companies, you’ll bump into over your career, one of the things that I’ve learned is that that you need to maintain and, you know, evolve those relationships because they help you. Maybe not now, but maybe in 5, 10 years time, they come back and they serve you really well. So it’s about keeping those relationships healthy.

Carlota Pico 20:14
Okay, well, we are going to move into our set of rapid fire questions, unfortunately, because our time is so limited, although I would love to keep on picking your brain on your social media strategy and your thought leadership marketing campaigns and everything like that. But I’m sure your recommendations will be as equally inspiring and also valuable. So to get the section started off I’d like to ask you about your source of inspiration. So for example, an influencer, professional role model, anybody and anyone that you admire and that you’re constantly learning from.

Lawrence Roberts 20:51
One of the people that I’ve admired most of my career is the ex chief executive Roy Vallee from Avnet. Before Tech Data I was part of Avnet and Avnet was acquired by Tech Data. When I was at Avnet, I had an opportunity to work with Roy on a press interview. And sometimes you just know when you’re in presence of a great mind, a really great mind. And I remember doing a press interview with him in London, in front of journalists, and we’re in the room. And you could see his mind think, and you just knew, it was immense. It was amazing, the way he was able to articulate himself. And the questions they were asking, the way he was able to come together with some incredible answers. And I look at people like that, and I just think wow, amazing. And they inspire me. They inspire me to learn, to want to develop my own skills, and you know, become better and try and fulfill my own potential.

Carlota Pico 21:52
Well, Lawrence, what about a book or publication that you’d like to recommend to our audience?

Lawrence Roberts 21:57
I’ve got a book just here for you. There you go. Stephen Covey. I think that’s a brilliant book. And you know why that is? I think that’s such a great book because it tells you to understand why you’re doing these things. I think one of the things that frustrates me most is you come across some individuals who are going through the motions, but don’t understand the why. And the important thing, I think, for us marketers is to understand that why. Why are we doing this? What difference is it going to make? Why are we doing that campaign? Why are we trying to encourage greater presence on social? How do we or why do we want more social advocates, employees taking that message out through their social channels? It’s that why piece and I think what Stephen Covey does really well is makes you think, why am I doing this? Why is this happening?

Carlota Pico 22:48
Yeah. Would you mind reading the title of that book off for us?

Lawrence Roberts 22:50
Yeah, of course. It’s Stephen R. Covey, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Carlota Pico 22:56
Okay, thank you. And then moving into our last question of today’s interview, it’s going to be your favorite app at the moment and why?

Lawrence Roberts 23:05
No, okay, I’m gonna give us a caveat. So one of the apps I’ve really got into this year is Tik Tok.

Carlota Pico 23:11

Lawrence Roberts 23:12
I say caveat, because there are some very serious security concerns around Tik Tok, and I’m not advocating anyone to use Tik Tok, per se. Some people who you speak to it’s fine. Others, and I work in the subsequent industry very much. I’ve spoken to people who advise the security agencies, and they think it’s Satan’s sport, they’re very anti it. But what’s important about it, and what’s really interesting is the content. The way that Tik Tok is able to serve up really engaging, really relevant content that is really easy to consume. It’s a bit like Twitter mixed with YouTube. Now as a marketer, I’m fascinated because it’s hooked you in and you can see the algorithms working. Now the power to sell engaging, relevant content that’s easy to consume, that’s a marketer’s dream. Its amazing. So I mean, I’ve been really fascinated with that actual app and how it works. The other I love, of course, is Ted Talks. I mean, I think that’s fantastic as well. So download TED Talks, maybe think about Tik Tok. Look at how it works. It’s just fascinating.

Carlota Pico 24:24
Yeah, I mean, I’m a fan of both of those apps. Tik Tok more for entertaining reasons. I find it extremely entertaining and a great way to just disconnect from my everyday responsibilities. I haven’t yet implemented it on a professional level, I’ll have to take a look into how brands can use Tik Tok in order to create more focused communities. And then when it comes to TED Talks, I mean, I’m the biggest fan of TED Talks. They are so inspiring, they’re full of great content. And I mean, it’s also a great opportunity to meet people or to get to know about different people from across the world and their interests and how they tackle everyday obstacles,

Lawrence Roberts 25:06
One of the things you can do, going back to Tik Tok, is you can actually influence the algorithm. By choosing what you like and what you engage with, you can see that algorithm changing. And then you can start getting not just entertaining content, you can also get very informative content. I found a lot of great content around cybersecurity ironically. So your content changes depending on what you engage with. And that changes the whole experience of the platform. And that’s what makes it so powerful. It’s really clever like that. But I mean, yeah, the TED Talks is, I think it’s the best thing. I think it’s one of the best apps on on the internet.

Carlota Pico 25:43
I agree. I’ll have a closer look at Tik Tok as well when it comes to his algorithm. Thank you for pointing that out.

Lawrence Roberts 25:49
No worries.

Carlota Pico 25:51
Lawrence, those were great tips. Thank you so much for joining us on The Content Mix, it was fabulous to meet you and also to pick your brain on the tech industry and social media strategy and thought leadership marketing campaigns. I learned so much, and I’m sure our audience did as well and they really benefited from our talk today.

Lawrence Roberts 26:10
Oh, thank you. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity. So thank you. It’s been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Thank you

Carlota Pico 26:15
The pleasure is ours. And thank you everyone for listening in. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out The Content Mix. We’ll be releasing interviews just like this one every week. So keep on tuning in. Thanks again. Have a wonderful day and see you next time. Bye.

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